Repeal of 1990s policy could transform prison education in New York

Originally published in timesunion

ALBANY —  The efficacy of post-secondary education on reducing recidivism is well-documented, but since the mid-1990s, laws preventing inmates from accessing state and federal grants have curbed educational opportunities for incarcerated New Yorkers.

The issue is getting play on the 2020 stage: U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is among several Democratic presidential contenders who have either co-sponsored or stated support for the bipartisan Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act, which would permanently restore Pell funding for inmates, Inside Higher Ed reports.

In the state Legislature, a 20-year-old bill restoring Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) funding for inmates was overshadowed during the 2019 legislative session by big-ticket criminal justice reforms, like rolling back cash bail and decriminalizing marijuana.

State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D- Brooklyn), who has been introducing the TAP measure every year since 1999 only to watch it die in committee, noted that this was the first time in a decade that Democrats are controlling state government and other long-stalled measures were seen as more urgent.

"It's still a live bill and we will reignite the movement on it as the session begins again," Montgomery said. "We have been grappling with creating a system of certification, so that people are able to receive vocational training and skills building. This is one small piece of it, but we know that this is an important piece of it."

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